France’s Next President?

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One can almost see President Chirac getting off a plane, waving a piece of white paper, and describing the draft Security Council resolution aiming to halt hostilities in Lebanon as ” peace in our time.” But imagine if the current crisis in Lebanon could have occurred on the watch of a different French president, a leader wedded to neither the reflexive anti-Americanism nor the pro-Arab policies of Mr. Chirac.

Impossible? Not really. The French elect a new president next spring, and under the Fifth Republic, all foreign policy powers are vested in the presidency. As it happens, at least one serious contender is significantly more pro-Israel and pro-American than the rest of the pack. That candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, has maintained a position on the Lebanon war completely different than the others.

With England closely allied with America, the French position dominates in Europe. France’s policy and rhetoric are particularly important because Iran is closely watching. To the degree Hezbollah can get away with its subversion of Lebanon and aggression against Israel, Iran will feel more secure in its pursuit of nuclear power and regional hegemony. So, while the lives of Lebanese civilians are extremely important and innocent deaths are a catastrophe, much greater dangers lurk.

What did France communicate to Iran?

The head of the Quai D’Orsay is Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy. He left last week for Beirut, where his visit would coincide with that of his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki. Before departing, Mr. Douste-Blazy called Iran “a great country, a great people and a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region.”

Stabilizing role? On what planet is Mr. Douste-Blazy living? In a slap at President Bush, he added that “It’s normal that politicians who want a political agreement can meet each other.” I am not upset that the French and Iranian foreign ministers met. But France’s public statements on Iran made me sick.

In the event, a spokesman for the Quai D’Orsay said the two foreign ministers met to discuss “to what measure Iran could contribute to a deescalation of the conflict.” Easy answer: if Iran stopped supporting Hezbollah, the conflict would end. The spokesman added: “Iran can play a role of stabilization, [but] Iran must assume all its responsibilities” before the international community.

Translation: if Iran agrees to a deal on the nukes it can gain recognition of its new prominent role as a regional power.

The diplomatic expression of the French-American convergence came in September of 2004 with Security Council Resolution 1559, which demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops and the dismantling of the Hezbollah militia. Before the troop withdrawal, however, Syria, in February 2005, assassinated a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, who was challenging Syria’s puppets. In the outrage that followed, Syria finally did withdraw its troops in late April of 2005. Syrian forces were gone, but the leash binding the terrorist group to their overlords had grown longer granting them more freedom of action, not less.

The only leverage to achieve the dismantling of Hezbollah’s militia, as required by 1559, turned out to be the current Israeli campaign. But France was not content to allow Israel to disarm Hezbollah in order to allow for the stabilization of Lebanon — in other words, to fulfill the goal of French policy. French leaders reacted by focusing on civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure as a counterweight.

Mr. Chirac and his embattled prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, saw their low approval numbers rise by 5%. The left opposition chastised the government for not moving with enough dispatch to end the fighting. Simultaneously complimenting a former American president while showing the back of her hand to the incumbent French president, Segolene Royal, the darling of the Socialist Party, weighed in with a request for intervention by President Clinton.

“France can play an intermediary, trustworthy role,” said the party’s leading candidate for the presidential election next year, but in order to reach a ceasefire France would need “voices that carry international weight, that have moral authority.” One of Ms. Royal’s potential opponents, and (ah, the French) the father of her children, Socialist party leader Francois Hollande, blamed America for the failure to agree on a cease fire at last month’s Rome Summit.

Ms. Royale runs ahead of all other presidential contenders except for interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is playing an “inside-outside” game. Mr. Sarkozy is inside the ruling party but running against the current leadership, as well as the socialist and far right opposition. During a television interview, Mr. Sarkozy called Hezbollah the “one aggressor,” asserted Israel’s right “to defend itself,” and said “Hezbollah’s behavior put … into question … Lebanon[‘s] right to be independent.”

As opposed to the pathetic comments of Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy about Iran, Mr. Sarkozy insisted that “There are more than suspicions about the links between Hezbollah and Iran [and that] Iran is not the only country concerned.” Instead of repeated calls like that of Mr. de Villepin for an “immediate cease-fire,” Mr. Sarkozy, urged, Israel “to maintain levelheadedness and restraint.”

Finally, the July 20, 2006 Le Monde carried a report of a public meeting at which the visiting Israeli minister recounted his meeting earlier with Mr. Sarkozy. According to the report, Minister Zeev Boim said that Mr. Sarkozy asked him, “How much time does the State of Israel require to complete the work?”

Think back and imagine that Tony Blair had opposed Mr. Bush on Iraq; and that the Mr. Schroeder was still the German Chancellor, rather than Ms. Merkel. Now flash forward and imagine Mr. Sarkozy as the next president of Republic.

Mr. Twersky is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.

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